Eat The Menu: Table Service

Photos courtesy of Tavola
Photos courtesy of Tavola

I’ve only myself to blame. Tavola—Italian for “table”—the intimate restaurant in the boutique Elliot Park Hotel anchoring that corner of downtown Minneapolis—debuted in 2018, but it took me until last week to discover what’s been hiding in plain sight.

Clearly, savvy diners had long since figured this out. The up-market trattoria was well-populated on this Monday night, thanks to a confluence of compelling features: the menu is approachable and fairly-priced, the service is friendly and pro, and—most important—the food, while photo-pretty, is both unfussy and well-prepared. 

In keeping with the hotel’s stylishly spare design, the room presents a pleasant understatement of blonde wood flooring abutting a spacious window wall, and warming banquettes on which to lounge as well as comfy armchair seating. 

I sipped an inky Nero d’Avola ($11 BTG) and sneaked a taste of my friend’s easy-to-like Old Fashion Corleone (house-made fig-infused Bourbon jazzed with orange and agave syrup) as we dithered over which app to inaugurate our meal. I had my eye on the Caesar salad (always a good test of a kitchen’s finesse), but our server, probably wisely, talked us into the burrata plate ($12) Fine choice. The amiable pillows of the mild, milky cheese practically leapt onto husky slices of the kitchen’s focaccia, while pale, sweet chunks of melon, circlets of summer’s tomatoes, and a toss of tiny, briny olives offered sweet-to-sharp contrasts. The list of starters gambols on, from steak tartare to fried polenta; from fried calamari to mussels in salsa verde ($9-15).

I suspect there’s no wrong choice among the five pasta plates on offer ($21-25, generous enough for sharing)—especially since the kitchen fabricates its own. We settled on the strozzapreti (partly because how can you not yearn to try a noodle that translates as “priest-strangler”?) It’s simple, as a true-to-Italy pasta course should be: solely these nicely-chewy noodles strewn with salt and pepper, a toss of grilled sweet corn, and bits of paper-thin fried Parmesan. Perfection. 

Our second choice, tagliatelle noodles, came tossed with mushrooms, leeks, asparagus, watercress and nutty talegggio cheese—heartier and good, to be sure, but a bit more modest on the palate.

Four entrees are listed ($31-41), including scallops paired with cannellini beans, escarole and scallions that sounded terrific; alas, plenty of diners before us thought so, too, so the kitchen was sold out. We proceeded to share the fish special of the evening—tonight, pearly halibut, carefully timed to retain its juicy interior, then paired with a hash of potatoes and corn kernels, a robust arugula pesto, and sweet red pepper agrodolce (sweet-and-sour sauce)—a quietly pleasing preparation. Or choose chicken picatta or a New York strip.

The dessert that caught our attention was the panna cotta ($9)—a properly rich and velvety custard under a fruity coulis of blackberries and (banana-like) saba and a topknot of crispy pistachio praline. It’s a soothing way to end a lovely meal. Or, go all out and summon the chocolate ganache cake with cherries and ice cream. Tavola also boasts a pizza oven producing five variations on the theme, ($15-17). Next time!

Tavola
Elliott Park Hotel
823 Fifth Ave. S., Minneapolis
612-389-2299
www.tavolampls.com

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